TOWARDS RADICAL NEWNESS
Catholic Homily / Sunday Reflection
6th Sunday of Easter (C)
May 9, 2010
Last week’s readings led us to reflect on transformed newness. We saw Paul and Barnabas storming Gentile territories, and how the dynamic duo transformed the lives of the people they met. We heard God’s uplifting prophetic message delivered through John: “Behold, I make all things new!”“Love one another.” The Risen Lord, for his part, imparted a new commandment that was the sure-fire way towards transformation:
This week, our sights and hopes are trained once again toward the future. It was a “future” that was really already taking place before their very eyes, as the first reading from Acts very clearly shows. Divisions and distinctions between Jew and Gentile were crumbling. Gradually taking their places were unity, harmony, and fellowship between and among peoples of different origins, traditions and initial beliefs and customs. The Gospel of the Lord was transforming the world that can now cry in unison: “O God, let all the nations praise you!” (Responsorial Psalm)
Fullness, universality, inclusivity, and oneness … characteristic traits of this vision of the future that had begun to unravel before their very eyes, are all sealed by the symbolic language of John: twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve tribes, three gates on each of the four corners (making a total of 12), twelve names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. A glorious vision of the heavenly city coming down from heaven … a city that no more needed the sun or the moon to shine on it, for its lamp was the lamb … all this rang true for a people whose minds and hearts had been renewed by their faith in the Risen Lord!
Is there any language and description of our destiny that can be more compelling than what we have today? Need we search for images of our deepest hopes and dreams other than what the Lord Himself offers us today?
A society that has no time, nor desire to dream could use a bit more of this type of language. Our jaded and cynical generation, replete with so much, yet bereft of depth and appreciation for what really matters, could do better than wallow in the shallow reality of everyday affairs and be led to envision their future – God’s future – that is unfolding in our lives.
Who says God is dead? God could not be more alive in the world today! He is busy as He had always been, transforming the world, working so that the fabled holy city of Jerusalem would come down from heaven. Who would ever expect a rebirth of the tiny Christian groups in war-torn Iraq, a group of hardy people who find meaning and resolve in their faith despite abject poverty, and so many other unfavorable conditions brought about by decades of tyranny and military occupation? Who could ever imagine that in an ocean of materialism and a culture of physical comfort, small clusters and groups arise who quietly and heroically live their Christian convictions though they are unheralded, unnoticed, and unrewarded by mass media and mainstream society? Can anyone convince me that God is never present and alive in the oncology wards of countless hospitals all over the world where terminally ill patients under extreme physical suffering find mysterious strength and peace as they go through the process of dying? And can anyone give a convincing argument to so many conversions that happen every day after whole lifetimes of profligacy and sinfulness? What gives strength and courage to so many poor migrant workers who brave new cultures and strange lands just to be able to give their families decent lives back home? What explains the so many endless sacrifices parents make all over the world just to give their children a bright future?
Indeed, what gave the late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II so much energy to go on preaching, even if he sounded very much like a John the Baptist speaking in the wilderness? What gave Damien the leper the dedication of a lifetime to care for those shunned by the rest of the world? What prodded Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to care for what she called the “least, the last, the lowest and the lost?” What is the energy behind the now advanced-in-age Pope Benedict XVI who continues to preach and teach indefatigably? How does one explain the fact that thousands of lay and religious missionaries continue to labor in many parts of the world, doing thankless jobs, working directly to help bring about that radical newness that can only come from God?
God is active in the world bringing about newness. What He does, though, does not translate to news delivered by major media outfits and networks. The past years since 2001 have shown us what makes for news: scandals, reports of torture, killings (the more gory, the more newsworthy), pitiful situations across the globe, revolutions, and terroristic activities. What passes off as news is really old stuff that dates back to Cain and Abel – the story of sin.
The Gospel of today recounts a different story. The story revolves around the unity of three persons, and around what each of them does for a people whose life stories are destined for radical newness.
Jesus tells us the story of His Father. God’s name, like our own names, are embedded in a story. Jesus tells us this fundamental story that He was sent “by the Father.” He further tells us that the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, is He “whom the Father will send in my name.” The Holy Spirit has a task to fulfill, a duty that spells newness for us all: “He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” The Emmanuel, the awaited and storied One, who later became known as Yeshua (Jesus) the Savior, is now the Christos, the anointed One, who fulfills all the stories that the prophets of old recounted about Him!
The story of God goes on … Yes, you guessed it right … Terrorism and wars and scandals, typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, and the so many sob and sad stories we hear by the day from all over the world, do not have the final word. The final chapter of God’s story is not for men and women like us to write. Such earthly stories could temporarily set us back at times. Indeed, they can discourage us, and make us lose faith in a God who seems to take His own sweet time, who seems to be watching passively as “evil men’s ways prosper and in disappointment is all that I endeavor end.” (Hopkins)
There is work, though, for us to do. The story of God cannot unfold without our cooperation. “God who created us without us, will not save us without us!” (St. Augustine). We are called to love as Jesus did, to do as He did, to live as He lived: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”
Aye … there’s the rub! Here is where most stories falter. Here’s where many of us fail. Today, the Risen Lord gives us a shot in the arm: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid! I am going away and I will come back to you!”